IAAPA 2001: Arrow Dynamic's Fred Bolingbroke: The CoasterBuzz Interview

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Arrow Dynamics can often be credited with helping start the steel coaster boom of the 80's, with dozens of installations all over the world, including Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200 and The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. In the last ten years, the boom has continued, with companies like B&M and Intamin dominating the landscape. Arrow starts this new decade with a coaster called the "4th Dimension," where riders are spun on seats hanging outside of the track. The first ride, called X, is now testing at Six Flags Magic Mountain. What has Arrow been up to? We asked president Fred Bolingbroke just that.

CB: Tell us a bit about how you landed at Arrow.

FB: In 1992, I moved into the area to work for a company just a couple of miles from the Arrow offices. It seems like everyone in the area talked about Arrow Dynamics. New ride projects were continually profiled on the local news. At the time, Arrow had just begun the Canyon Blaster and Rim Runner at Circus Circus. I answered an ad in the local newspaper for a cost accountant/estimator, and jumped at the opportunity to come on board. I left Arrow in 1995 and asked to return as Vice President of Finance in March of 1998. I became President and CEO in February of 2000.

CB: How has the company changed since its origins as a Disney partner?

FB: Primarily with the boom of the steel coaster, Arrow focused more on coasters and log flume rides. Arrow moved away from the unique themed rides that were developed with Disney. Arrow moved to Utah in 1978 and with changes in personnel and product has little resemblance to the early company. However, we will always be proud of the company’s beginnings and recognize those people who created the industry that we can’t seem to get enough of.

CB: With so many different steel coaster manufacturers out there now, all using a variety of technology, what does it take to stand out in the crowd?

FB: I really believe that it takes a focused attention to every detail of the project in order to stand out. Not only do you have to continually improve and innovate, but also you have to support the ride and the customer in every way. The companies that are successful have done that.

CB: Arrow had their name on the bulk of steel coasters manufactured in the 70's and 80's. Then in the 90's, B&M seemed to do the same while Arrow was relatively quiet. What was Arrow doing during that period of time?

FB: I think it’s safe to say that Arrow became complacent and lost sight of what was really important. Arrow was unable to change and improve with the advancements in technology. More attention was placed on quantity than on quality. During this time period, Arrow "retooled" and strengthened its engineering and manufacturing. Arrow built about one ride per year and began to contract work outside of the amusement industry. Arrow currently employs about 75 people.

CB: Your Mad Mouse has popped up at a number of parks, and many European manufacturers are also trying to get similar rides in parks. While all of the attention seems to be toward the giant rides, why do you suppose so many parks want a mouse in their coaster collection?

FB: A Mad Mouse is a great family attraction. Adults rode mouse rides as kids and are excited to see the addition of the old classic. Many parks want their capital dollars to be spread over many areas of the park, as opposed to one major attraction. This gives something new for every demographic and every corner of the park, the mouse ride fits well into that strategy.

CB: The ArrowBATic looks like a great concept. Where did that idea come from, and who is the target audience? Has anyone bought one yet?

FB: The ArrowBATic originated with the desire to take the mouse-type coaster to a new level. We wanted to create a high thrill coaster that because of its size and price would be available to small and medium size parks. The ride features a 90-degree drop (with the Extreme version) as well as inline rolls and loops. The ArrowBATic uses standard layouts that incorporate traditional chain lifts, as well as elevator lifts and launches. We have not yet sold an ArrowBATic, however I still believe it will be a successful ride for us. It’s excitement and quality will give the first installation a lot of attention.

CB: After that relative silence in the 90's (outside of notable installations like the Tennessee Tornado), you've exploded on to the scene with the 4th Dimension. Tell me a little about where the idea came from, how long you've been developing it, and what your expectations for it are.

FB: Arrow engineers have been developing the concept for the 4th Dimension for several years. It was in the summer of 2000 that Gary Story recognized the uniqueness and the huge potential of the 4th Dimension and gave Arrow the order to develop the prototype. We have some very talented engineers who were able to move the project from concept stage to X at Magic Mountain in a very short period of time. We had a good teacher in Ron Toomer, whose enthusiasm and love for roller coasters rubbed onto us, but now we’re ready to take thrill rides to another level.

CB: Do you think we're running out of variations for roller coasters?

FB: No, I really don’t. The industry will continue to evolve. Like any other industry, there will continue to be periods of growth and innovation, combined with plateaus. For several years, the industry has been improving on existing designs and making small advancements. Arrow has jumped back into the spotlight because of the revolutionary new 4th Dimension at Magic Mountain and the record smashing thrill ride on Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Both rides feature very unique vehicle and track designs.

CB: The economy is getting a bit tough. Outside of destination areas like Orlando, the industry seems to be doing OK anyway. Is the amusement industry recession-proof to some degree? Do you think the building frenzy of the last few years is over or will it continue?

FB: I do think that the industry has some degree of tolerance to recession. If we don’t make the annual trip to Disneyland, then we will at least visit our local amusement park. Amusement parks seem to have become a staple in our lives. I believe that parks will not be able to sustain the capital spending that we have seen on amusement rides over the last few years. Parks will, however, continue to improve and update their attractions to maintain a growth in attendance.

CB: A lot of people don't realize that Arrow does more than amusement rides. What else does the company do?

FB: That is a very good question. About 7 years ago, Arrow brought back in-house the manufacturing of track and structure, which gives us much greater control over the schedule and product quality. Over the last couple of years, we have made strides in diversifying our business and using our talents outside of the amusement industry. This has mainly involved steel fabrication and fiberglass work. We recently completed a large truss sculpture out of aluminum tubing (with many similarities to roller coaster track) for a government building in Baltimore. This fall we are working on major structures, including the cauldron, for the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. We also fulfill weekly fabrication orders for companies in the aerospace and airline industry.

CB: Where do you hope to take Arrow in the future?

FB: It is my goal to return Arrow to the worldwide respect that it once enjoyed in amusement industry. We will build innovative, state of the art roller coasters and thrill rides, accompanied by the highest levels of service and support. We plan to build two to three coasters per year and continually introduce new concepts to the industry. It won’t all happen over night, but we will not lose sight of our goal.

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